An Emerald-tinted drive in the 2022 Toyota GR Yaris

What better way to enjoy a vacation in Ireland than by spending some time with a true enthusiast's car that's not available in the US?
Enlarge / What better way to enjoy a vacation in Ireland than by spending some time with a true enthusiast’s car that’s not available in the US?
Dan Carney

A thumbs-up from the middle-aged mountain bike racer confirmed that the Pearl Ice White Toyota GR Yaris I was testing had hit its target of appealing to adventure-seeking drivers and manual transmission traditionalists. His snap judgment was correct: This car delivers on its promise of being the kind of combustion-fueled fun that is well into its twilight.

American car enthusiasts like to complain that we never get the good stuff in the US market. Last year’s announcement of the Toyota GR Yaris, a World Rally Championship-inspired tidbit of a car, seemed to confirm this glass-is-half-empty viewpoint. But since then, Toyota has revealed plans for a US-market GR Corolla using much of the same hardware.

Will putting the Yaris’ 257 hp (192 kW) turbocharged direct-injected 1.6 L three-cylinder G16E-GTS powerplant into the larger, heavier Corolla spoil the intended experience? We’ve yet to drive the GR Corolla for comparison, but a turn behind the wheel of the GR Yaris while in Ireland suggests that Toyota’s product planners know what they’re doing. The Corolla will enjoy the benefit of more power to offset its weight, as Toyota has announced that it will produce a 300 hp (224 kW) version of this engine, resetting the mark for the world’s strongest three-cylinder engine.

The GR Yaris was meant to satisfy homologation rules for rallying, but then those rules changed. Toyota built the GR Yaris road car anyway.
Enlarge / The GR Yaris was meant to satisfy homologation rules for rallying, but then those rules changed. Toyota built the GR Yaris road car anyway.
Dan Carney

The GR Yaris provides exactly the kind of fun you’d expect from its specifications, delivering sub-5.5-second 0-60 mph acceleration and flyweight agility through mountain switchbacks. Just look at the car! It has a sheet molding compound, carbon fiber-reinforced plastic roof panel for maximum stiffness and minimum weight, just like a BMW M4. The hood, hatch, and door skins are all aluminum for further reduced mass.

The car is a stubby two-door hatchback, ensuring maximum maneuverability and body rigidity, which is also good news for enthusiasts. The back seat is tiny, and the hatch’s cargo hold is tinier still. A couple of suitcases will not fit in the hatch.

Folding the rear seat back to turn the Yaris into a two-seater with a useful amount of cargo space is sensible, considering that nobody would be very happy in that back seat anyway. I appreciated the Yaris’ tidy dimensions on the confines of the Irish roads where I experienced the GR. But in more spacious US conditions, the lack of passenger and storage space would be a significant deterrent to drivers accustomed to SUVs.

The GR Yaris has the practicality of a mid-engined sports car. That is a hard sell to most people when it looks like a four-seat hatchback.
Enlarge / The GR Yaris has the practicality of a mid-engined sports car. That is a hard sell to most people when it looks like a four-seat hatchback.
Dan Carney

That rigid body contributes to the Yaris’ steering precision and suspension control, but it has no evident sound deadening. The car drums with road noise on the highway.

The two-door layout gives the car a sporty, sleek profile, but by attempting to provide some kind of access to the nearly non-existent rear seat, those two doors stretch long enough to remind me of the challenges of getting into and out of a Camaro or Mustang in a snug parking spot without dinging the door of the adjacent car. The market’s general move to four shorter doors and their easier ingress and egress has probably put most US drivers off of coupes permanently.

A press of the dash-mounted start button ignites the three-pot engine to a muted burble. The large circular analog instruments are another nod to the period represented by the car’s manual-shift transmission. They are exactly what the target buyer expects to see in a sporty car, even if younger drivers may be baffled by the Yaris’ “old-fashioned” gauges. Digital readouts on the available head-up display should placate them. The car’s electronically limited 143-mph (230-km/h) top speed went untested.

Before anyone gets upset, the speedo reads in km/h—Ed.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/C76A22E6-E20C-44F5-A672-74082C4DC0B3-980×735.jpeg” width=”980″ height=”735″>
Enlarge / Before anyone gets upset, the speedo reads in km/h—Ed.
Dan Carney

When the tach’s needle swings toward the redline, the Yaris’ growl recalls a Triumph Speed Triple shredding a mountain road, with the added aural component of the turbo’s waste gate whooshing on throttle lift at corner entry. It’s an entertaining but understated soundtrack that won’t offend the middle-aged mountain biker’s neighbors, though they’ll never understand why he has chosen to drive a Toyota “economy car” rather than the Porsche he traded in. What kind of mid-life crisis is this, anyway?

What the neighbors don’t know is that while the Yaris has sport seats that look similar to those in a Porsche, the Toyota’s seats are actually comfortable, which is something that I appreciated in a couple of days of touring the Emerald Isle. While Porsche’s seats are unfailingly supportive, their comfort has usually left me wanting.

An absence of turbo lag means that the engine delivers its abundant torque from low rpm, helping the Yaris move effortlessly through mountain hairpin turns. That and the smooth, communicative clutch friction point combine to make it easy to creep through narrow urban Irish alleys without concern for an embarrassing stall.

The GR Yaris’ cable-actuated 6-speed H-pattern shifter has the slightly notchy short throws that will feel familiar to a Porsche Boxster or Cayman driver. There’s a lockout collar on the shifter to prevent accidental shifts into reverse, though I found my less-experienced left-shifting hand (the test car was right-hand drive) tended to err on the side of insufficient pressure, causing me to occasionally end up in the middle 3-4 gate when aiming for the 1-2 side of the H.

Never mind "they won't build them like this much longer," (although they won't)—they don't really build them like this much at all.
Enlarge / Never mind “they won’t build them like this much longer,” (although they won’t)—they don’t really build them like this much at all.
Dan Carney

In combination with the crisp throttle response that is devoid of delay in either tipping in or lifting off, the clutch and shifter will be excellent examples of this dying breed for future drivers. Toyota points to its iMT (intelligent Manual Transmission) system as an aid to “rhythmic shifting.” I pondered the meaning of that when the car was announced, and now, having experienced the car, I still don’t know what it means. The car’s shifting is equally excellent whether iMT is engaged or not.

The GR-FOUR all-wheel-drive system’s multi-clutch power distribution effectively eliminates any hint of influence from the power coursing through the front wheels. The Yaris’ accurate steering does not suffer from the clumsy, obvious manifestation of torque steer, where the throttle wrestles the driver for control of the steering wheel, nor the more subtle variety, in which acceleration makes the steering wheel less willing to unwind itself as the car rolls out of corners on the throttle.

The Yaris has three drive modes: Normal, Sport, and Track. But as with the iMT shifting, the car’s fundamentals are so sound that the differences in these settings are subtle, so as not to undo the engineers’ calibration efforts. The settings adjust the proportion of the engine’s power that goes to the rear wheels (from as little as 40 percent to as much as 70 percent), but driving on dry tarmac provides little opportunity to notice differences that would be more pronounced on gravel, for example.

The only exterior parts that the GR Yaris shares with the regular car are the headlights, tail lights, side mirrors, and that shark fin antenna on the roof.
Enlarge / The only exterior parts that the GR Yaris shares with the regular car are the headlights, tail lights, side mirrors, and that shark fin antenna on the roof.
Dan Carney

Ultimately, the GR Yaris is everything that likely buyers of a car in this price range are looking for in a traditionally sporty car. That price is 50,565 euros for the base car. Our test car included the 3,780 euro Luxury Pack, which features the very welcome navigation system and head-up display that aided me in finding my way around and maintaining awareness of speed limits.

There is also a 6,800 euro Track Pack that substitutes forged aluminum wheels for the base car’s cast-aluminum wheels, stiffens the suspension, and adds a limited slip locking differential. These packages can’t be combined, and I’m glad to have tested the package that minimized my opportunities to get lost rather than maximizing my chances of rattling a filling loose.

We won’t know how many tenths of a second in 0–60 acceleration time will be lost or how many will be added to an autocross time for the slightly longer and heavier GR Corolla compared to the Yaris. But this car’s powertrain and chassis indicate a sufficient margin of excellence to take on a little weight without spoiling the experience. The added luggage, passenger, and elbow room in the Corolla (which is nearly 15 inches longer than the Yaris) will likely make all the difference for American buyers—even if their neighbors won’t understand the GR Corolla any more than they would a GR Yaris.

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